Looking Forward: Wisconsin in 2012

“Why is there not harmony?” people ask me. “Why can’t you all just get along.” others say. “Why does it seem like everyone is out for their own political gain and not for the people?”

Can we achieve harmony? Is it too much to ask of public officials? Will elected leaders work to pursue the common good? Will we support them if they do?

I gained a bit of insight into leadership this past summer when I had an opportunity to visit the Art Museum in Milwaukee.

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WRS: Bright Spot in State Finances

One place citizens won’t find too many problems if they ‘lift up the hood’ of the state’s finances is the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS).

The WRS pays retirement, disability and death benefits to former employees (and beneficiaries) of the state and some units of local government. The system is funded at 99.8% - one of the healthiest pension funds in the country. 

While other states see ‘unfunded pension liabilities’ drain their financial balance sheet, Wisconsin can brag about a well-funded system. 

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Does Financial Aid Help Students Graduate?

“Perhaps we should eliminate financial aid,” my Senate colleague suggested. “And just lower tuition for everyone.”

Recently a Senate Committee considered a bill to look at combining all financial aid programs into one. During the public hearing the Senators grappled with the question: does financial aid help students graduate?

I was a student who would not have graduated or even attended college without financial aid. For me the answer seemed painfully obvious. Dr. Rolf Wegenke seemed to agree.

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Education Budget Cuts bring Challenges, Controversy

State officials recently announced this year’s final state aid sent to local school districts 1 . All but 13 of Wisconsin’s 424 local school districts received cuts in state aid 2 .

The historic school aid reduction in Wisconsin is the second largest per pupil cut in the nation 3 .

Local education leaders, parents and teachers are concerned about the long-term effects of such deep funding cuts.

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Keep Citizens’ Voice on Conservation Matters

Do you hunt or fish? Want some say in the rules? You can go to the spring Conservation Congress meeting and vote on hunting and fishing rules.

But a law passed in May shuts down the voice of the Conservation Congress. This new law needs to be changed.

Every spring hunters and anglers gather in school auditoriums, listen to presentations and cast their ballots. Hunters and anglers vote on advisory questions, resolutions, and elect county delegates. Later in the year the elected leaders of the Conservation Congress work with the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to seek approval of the rules.

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Sen. Vinehout Introduces Bill to Foster County Cooperation

Bill saves taxpayer money by allowing local governments to share equipment and personnel

Sen. Vinehout today introduced a bill to foster cooperation in road repair among local government. The bill reverses earlier action by lawmakers to prohibit such cooperation.

“It just makes sense for counties to cooperate,” said Vinehout. “Road equipment is expensive; certain county workers have special skills and experience. Working together brings costs down for taxpayers.”

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Survey shows fewer teachers, fewer student opportunities

Over the past two months I received numerous postcards with one main message: my public school has changed.

The stories shared came from all over the state: larger class sizes, fewer teachers and aides, fewer electives and core class sections, fewer reading and special ed teachers, fewer guidance counselors, fewer janitors and support staff,  longer bus routes, book budgets slashed, maintenance delayed, sports dropped or consolidated.

Results of a new survey of Wisconsin superintendents provide numbers to support the message on the postcards: Schools are losing teachers and staff. Programs are cut back.

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Let’s Use Common Sense in Trimming Family Care

Family Care helps disabled and elderly people live in our communities. Cuts to this program need a common sense approach to protect those most vulnerable.

Recently I met with people who help the disabled. We talked through changes and challenges. I heard many stories that brought concern.

In the state’s rush to cut costs people are losing services, medical care is denied or delayed, homes and programs are closing and staff let go. At the same time, the Governor’s budget ordered eligible people needing services to get on a waiting list which officials expect to swell to 10,000 people.

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A Better Way to Balance the Medicaid Budget

One in five people in Wisconsin now depend on Medicaid. Under a new administration proposal, health care for many of these people could be in danger. 

Hard times forced many people to turn to the state for health care. While most of state government saw deep cuts in the last budget, the health budget actually increased.

In an odd form of ‘the state giveth and the state taketh away’ the budget also required the Department of Health (DHS) to give back about 16% of this increase in new state money.

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Confusing New Voting Law Coming To Your Neighborhood

The new voting law is confusing. Need to know what type of IDs is acceptable or how to vote absentee? The answer is not so simple.

Beginning in 2012, voters will need a photo identification card to vote. Only certain types of photo IDs are acceptable. The acceptable IDs are 

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